The Rough Guide to the Music of Vietnam
Vietnamese pop and traditional styles take some getting used to, but this album's true surprise is its at times coincidental, at times intentional affinity with American blues. "Blue Requiem" is intentional camp, teaming Japanese producer Makoto Kubota and dan bao (a Vietnamese monochord instrument) master Thuy Hanh over a sampled drum track from jazzy funkster Bernard Purdie. The result is a slow-simmering dirge aptly described in the liner notes as "down-home Mekong Delta blues." Meanwhile, without ever hearing a note of the blues, Kim Sinh, a blind man who performed on a two-string Vietnamese lute called the dan nguyet, developed a style that, on "Li Giao Duyen," sounds like a cross between the spaced-out trance guitar of Mississippi Fred McDowell and John Fahey's delicate fingerpicking. Also eminently downloadable is the closer, a field recording of a family band's Casio and dan bao rendition of eerie cowboy classic "Ghost Riders in the Sky," captured live near Saigon harbor in front of a throng of howling Japanese tourists.— John Nova Lomax
Bonde do Rolê
The Rough Guide to the Music of Vietnam
In ice-cool genre-mashup circles, Brazil is the de rigueur frontier for new hard-hitting, urban-sexy dance beats. Bonde do Rolê, hailing from Curitiba, is the first group from the baile funk scene to make international inroads, thanks to a chance discovery by American DJ/producer Diplo of Hollertronix. The trio's first full-length begins with a midtempo take on that fast, aggressive formula, then flips it with old-school electro, straight-up Miami bass and a grab bag of other global city sounds. For non-Portuguese speakers, the mostly female vocals (courtesy of MC Marina Ribatski) are mainly another percussive tool. Her singsong delivery sounds half taunt, half invite to come shake your ass; funny, because the language choice masks super-raunchy, or just plain weird, lyrics. "Geremia" tells the story of a player so smooth he "makes lemonade with KY." On "Tieta," over an absurdly upbeat guitar riff and samba-esque drums, MC/producer Pedro D'eyrot blithely shouts, "When it all comes down to a hole, I don't see a difference." The beats, meanwhile, are almost insidiously catchy, with elements ranging from machine-age futuristic to ridiculously low-tech. Who can resist a dance track with a tribal drum backbone and a main riff played on kazoo? Nobody with a pulse and sense of humor, that's for sure. — Arielle Castillo
Introducing Kenge Kenge
This neo-trad Kenyan octet's name appropriately translates from the Luo as "fusion of small, exhilarating instruments." Over roiling drums, Kenge Kenge adds flute, a one-string fiddle called the orutu and powerful, close, massed choruses that remind me of South African gospel. There's a heavy Congolese drive to the rhythms, and the keening fiddle is reminiscent of the Malian soku many Americans are familiar with through the recordings of Ali Farka Touré. There's not much variance in tempo or feel here, and the lyrics are all in Luo, so this works best as iPod shuffle fodder. — J.N.L.
The Budos Band
Sonorous, impeccably dignified horns soar over churning, percolating funk drums and buzzing keyboards throughout this Ethiopian jazz-informed record from the Staten Island-based Daptone label (Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings' home base). Nine of the ten cuts, instrumentals all, could be themes for film-noir cop dramas from 1970s Addis Ababa — Haile Selassie 5-0 or some such — while the tenth is a superbly exotic rendition of the Temptations' "My Girl." Immensely cool, if a bit repetitive after the fourth or fifth track. — J.N.L.
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The Rough Guide to Latino Nuevo
The Rough Guide to Salsa Clandestina
These two companion releases showcase artists, veteran and newcomer alike, taking Latin music to new audiences by taking their music in broader directions. Nuevo Latino ranges from traditional-sounding tunes to more rock-inflected moments like Aterciopelados cofounder Hector Buitrago's beautiful ballad "Música Somos." New York's Yerba Buena contribute "La Candela," a mash-up of yoruba drums, rap and wah-wah guitars. The biggest surprise, however, is pianist Alex Wilson's "Oh Kuri," a traditional salsa dura, only with Hindi vocals by Kuljit Bhamra, who sounds incredibly comfortable in a Latin jazz setting. Salsa Clandestina, though, takes a different point of view, looking outside the box to feature songwriters and musicians who are preserving some of the genre's elements while taking it somewhere else. Ray Santiago's cover of James Brown's "It's a Man's World," sung with soulful vocals, follows a discreet bolero-meets-blues feel, and jazz drummers Horacio "El Negro" Hernandez and Robby Ameen's "Sympathy to The Devil/El Cielo" medley (vocals by Rubén Blades) comes together seamlessly. Brooklyn-based Miami native Jose Conde's group Ola Fresca sounds fairly traditional on "Café Con Sangre," but a closer listen reveals funk and other contemporary influences, as his "Ride La Ola" opens Nuevo Latino with a similar Latin-funk feel. Self-appointed "Cuban surf-rock band" Cuban Cowboys forego congas, maracas and other Latin percussion instruments here in favor of guitar, bass and drums, incorporating Cuban and other South American sounds into a rock context. Frontman Jorge Navarro's lyrics use plenty of Spanglish to describe the hard feelings he harbors for his hard-drinking, absent father. Nuevo Latino and Salsa Clandestina inherently complement each other, so it's a pity that their label did not package the two discs together. Of course, they can be experienced individually, but spinning them back-to-back offers a much better sense of the Latin talents within. — Ernest Barteldes
"Bokoor" means "coolness," and refers to both the Ghanaian studio and the band founded by John Collins, a British expatriate who grew up the son of a professor in Africa. Collins fell in love with the local sounds and had access to plenty of Western music, and fuses the two here with often stunning results on these early '70s sides, eight (of 12) of which are by his own Bokoor Band. The standout cuts include plenty of scratchy guitar riffs melded with Collins's harmonica and male-female call-and-response vocals and plenty of percolating percussion. "Maya Gari" sounds like Toots and the Maytals in Africa; "Onukpa Shwarpo" like a James Brown groove with Bob Dylan sitting in on harp. Meanwhile, "Anoma Franoas," from a group called Dyihwam International, is a lovely mélange of jazzy guitar chords and tootling organ. Tons of funky fun that sounds great on the beach. — J.N.L.